A recent article from the Global South Studies Center online publication Voices, as part of the issue on Social Water, discussed a unique project in São Paulo, Rediscovering Rivers in A Brazilian Megacity by Douglas McRae, a PhD Candidate in History at Georgetown University.  The focus of the article was on a project “Rios Des.cobertos” (Rivers Un.covered, or Dis.covered). which is “a collaborative installation between researchers and designers has sought to reignite these questions in the minds of their fellow Paulistanos, imparting a vision of the city’s hydrological reality through an exhibition combining history, geography, ecology, and visual art.”

The work emerged from a collaboration between “…geographer Luiz de Campos and architect José Bueno have coordinated the Iniciativa Rios e Ruas (Rivers and Roads Initiative), raising awareness of the city’s forgotten rivers through educational and community activities.”  The group has been working since 2010 with an aim to “Deepen reflection on the use of public space and bring back to the city the underground and submerged rivers.”   The methods are also outlined below, which includes research, field work, storytelling, and tours, all of which engage in the hidden hydrology of the city.

A map of the over waterways developed by Rios e Ruas shows many of the streams, and as mentioned in an article in the Guardian, “São Paulo has nearly 300 named waterways, says de Campos, and probably closer to 500 in total. A collective map used by Rios e Ruas shows the city looking like a vital organ, encased in a blue web of waterways – a network of mostly buried rivers and streams totalling more than 3,000 km. “There’s plenty of water in São Paulo,” says de Campos. “It’s just very badly managed.”

McRae continues: “In addition to leading walking tours in neighborhoods around the city seeking to uncover its forgotten courses of water, Campos and Bueno also organize educational sessions with students, and in general raise awareness regarding aquatic nature in the city. Another important aspect of their work has involved “reclamation” activities: physically uncovering and rejuvenating submerged headwater springs of forgotten or hidden rivers and streams. “Even the smallest improvement makes a big difference,” Campos told me in an interview, and such improvements can lead to the revival the plant and animal life in neighborhoods otherwise enveloped in concrete and asphalt.”

Some context on the interactivity, via McRae: “In selecting a program on the control panel, visitors trigger an animation of this fluvial drainage in motion, illuminating the component parts that contribute to the Upper Tietê watershed, the region where the Tietê’s headwaters are located. The formerly sinuous curves of the Tietê and Pinheiros in particular vanish with the passage of time. Other rivers are highlighted: for example the Sapateiro River, which flows south of the Espigão into the Pinheiros, feeding the lakes in the city’s sprawling Ibirapuera Park. Another, the Verde River, is artificially split into two different courses, and occasionally causes massive floods in the lower areas of the Vila Madalena neighborhood. One can observe how the city developed at first bounded by these rivers, later growing over them and causing them to fade from both sight and mind. Campos often reminds audiences that Paulistanos are rarely more than 300 meters from the course of a river. “Most Paulistanos have a vision of a city with three or four rivers” Campos explains, when in fact, any stream of water above or below ground can signify a forgotten river.”

I was struck by the use of technology to enliven the story of water, particularly as an installation.  Some more images from Estudio Laborg co-creators of the exhibit “…in partnership with the Rios e Rutas (Rivers and Roads Initiative), the exhibition Rios Des.Cobertos – The Rescue of the Waters of the City is made up of exhibition boards and a model with an interactive map projection that allows the public to discover the rivers and complexity of the relief of the municipality of São Paulo.”

The videos of the display really bring it to life, such as this one Caminho das aquas (Waterway or Water path), is stunning:

The use of a simple topographic relief model is augmented with projected imagery to show additional layers of information like water flows, basins. elevation, and other features.  Seeing it transform seems a powerful way to engage audiences, another here:

MORE FROM SÃO PAULO

A project of a similar nature is documented in this article Project Aims to Uncover Hundreds of Buried Rivers in São Paulo, Brazil which documents Cidada Azul (Blue City) “…implemented in a single week to bring attention to a part of São Paulo, Brazil that has been buried for a long time. In order to bring the smells, sounds, and freshness of the hundreds (yes, really) of rivers that cut through the city”  In addition to audio tours, they

“the blue city that transform our relationship with water in urban environments; for centuries the cities have treated their rivers and lakes as sewage channels and the result is that we can not enjoy their presence or enjoy their water”

The platform provides an awesome map a snap shown here, with their description: “São Paulo is a huge city built over more than 300 rivers. Today they are buried and polluted. Anywhere in the city you are, there is a creek flowing under your feet not further than 200m. Discover!”

There are also interactive audio guides, developed alongside Rios e Ruas, which are described as such. “The best way to discover São Paulo’s rivers is to walk the city. We are developing audio-guides that help you find and follow the river trails. Put on your headphone, choose a river and follow instructions.”  Stops along the way are highlighted by signage and blue paint.

The blue paint also comes up in other ways, with painted manhole covers, and streets to alert passersby of the routing of the hidden streams.  An image via their Facebook page shows one of these installations.

A couple of videos “The Blue City: The Meeting of Three Rivers” and the one below ‘”The Blue City: Green River” shows these endeavors in action.

An article in the Guardian ‘The river hunter of São Paulo – a life devoted to finding its lost waterways” delves into similar territory, following Adriano Sampaio, an “urban explorer who knows all of its hidden rivers and springs”.  Posting on Facebook as Existe aqua em SP, he documents these explorations, augmented by maps.  As mentioned: “He and his friend Ramon Bonzi, an urbanist, use 1930s maps laid over modern-day street maps to track down hidden and forgotten waterways, peering over walls, lifting manhole covers and climbing about in the undergrowth in search of rivers, streams and springs. “We always find something,” says Sampaio.”

Another article from Camila Cavalheiro is The Hidden Rivers of São Paulo, which provides some context for additional activities in the community. A few links are not working, as I’d love to find more about the “Rios (In)visíveis” project, but it seems to be not linked and the map leads to a blank page..  One that’s really interesting is Aqui passa um Rio (Here flows a river) has a more exploratory and performative nature, a project that is a Coletivo Fluvial (Fluvial Collective) which exists “…to generate actions of cartographic-performative character that rub on the surface of the city the awareness of submerged questions, like its waters. We work with multiple languages, actions and investigations in urban space, theoretical research practices, cartography, intervention, stencil, performance, music, space activation and meetings. We call for participation and open dialogue and free expression in the public space.”

Marking the spaces provides a permanence to the locations of the hidden rivers and engages the broader population.

A more studio based but no less beautiful artwork also comes in the form of  RIOS [IN]VISÍVEIS DE SÃO PAULO an installation by Clarissa Morgenroth, Isabel Nassif and Renata Pedrosa as part of a show ‘Connections’.  This interpretation using twine and nails maps the rivers and provides a nice aesthetic for hidden rivers.

A final project mentioned is Entre Rios, a documentary film that “…tells the story of the city of São Paulo from the perspective of its rivers and streams. Until the end of the 19th century, these waterways were the great sources of the city. Today, hidden by the pipes, pass unnoticed by most of Paulista. But in the rainy season, the city stops when floods show the buried face of local nature.”  In Portuguese only, it’s still pretty informative to one who doesn’t know the language.

ENTRE RIOS from Caio Ferraz on Vimeo.

NOTE:  Apologies in advance for any awkward translations, but wanted to distill the gist of info as most of the text is in Portuguese so I’m relying heavily on Google Translate here. (so please correct anything inherently wrong),


HEADER:  Installation from Estudio Laborg – RIOS DES.COBERTOS – EDIÇÃO SESC PINHEIROS – 2017

The first of what I hope are many field trips and investigations is now up on the site in a section called Explorations.  This will be the location for these site-specific journeys, and will be augmented with maps, narratives, soundscapes, and images layered to tell the Water Stories of these hidden streams and buried creeks.

For this initial foray, in Seattle, it was immense fun to wander the areas north of Green Lake and discover the history of Licton Springs. As you see from the map below, the historic routes show a stream flowing southwards into Green Lake.  The reach of the waterway starts around Licton Springs Park, where it is sees daylight for a stretch, along with some other intermittent segments where it pops up in surprising ways, throughout the neighborhood.

The story of Licton Springs focuses on the significance to Native Duwamish peoples, who celebrated the place and it’s spiritual, reddish, iron-oxide infused waters, and to early settlers, who lived and recreated, bathed in thermal pools, and bottled and drank of the healing mineral waters.

Like many places, the history of how the place evolved and how it was maintained is of interest, but the journey of the now and the experience of a day of exploring the edges, the muddy margins, and the sloppy seeps (lost shoes included) connect the history of place to the experience of today.

Beyond the park, there are a number of other discoveries that paint a story of people and place woved together through the flow of water.  Discovery of the story of Pilling’s Pond, a small section carved out of the flow of Licton Springs to provide a sanctuary where Charles Pilling became a world expert duck breeding in the middle of Seattle.

The discoveries also include a unique segment of stream fronting Ashworth Avenue,  a single residential block with driveways and fences literally bridging over the final daylit segment of of Licton Springs, showing how each owner shaped, or left feral, their little piece of the wild.

The connection as well with the virtual, with the final connection is made to Green Lake.  Now only connected via overflow, the tracery of Licton Springs, imagined perhaps in some abstracted water play forms, swales, and cascades, may still be allow the creek to be evident, if only in our imagination.

The link below expands on this summary, so check it out, go out and explore, and come back with some water stories of your own.

READ THE FULL EXPLORATION OF LICTON SPRINGS

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If you haven’t had a chance to check out the installation ‘Calling Thunder: Unsung NYC’ it’s a fantastic example of using digital storytelling methods that connect with hidden hydrology.  The project extends the work of the Welikia Project. which provides ecological history of New York along with some great visualizations of pre-development in the form of maps and 3D graphics.   A little background comes from the article in the NY Times from April 25th, ‘The Sounds of ‘Mannahatta’ in Your Ear’:

““Calling Thunder,” is an aural bridge across four centuries. It builds on Dr. Sanderson’s stunning work, with Markley Boyer, in creating visualizations of the rolling landscape of 1609 Manhattan — known by the Lenape people as Mannahatta, “the island of many hills” — that are twinned with photographs of the same points in the modern city. We see hills and streams at places now occupied by skyscrapers and subway tunnels; a red maple swamp where an H&M store stands in Times Square.

Drawing on the work on Mannahatta, the immersive video and 360 video and soon VR animate the lovely maps that populated the original books.  As one moves through the pre-1600s aerial imagery, it transitions to the modern cityscape,  The visuals showcase the heart of the book “…published in 2009, and its classic, bookly virtues — visual beauty, wit and imagination, all underwritten by deep scholarship — persuasively deliver its most astounding revelation: Manhattan in the 17th century had more ecological communities per acre than Yellowstone, more than most rain forests or coral reefs.”

The soundscapes are the best part, a collaboration between “… Bill McQuay, a former sound engineer with NPR who is now an audio producer with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and David Al-Ibrahim, an interactive storyteller and graduate student at the School of Visual Arts.”   Using sounds from the Macaulay Library at Cornell, the soundscapes piece together species, for instance, in recreating the Collect Pond, the species of American Crow, Marsh Meadow Katydid, Bullfrog, American Bittern, Baltimore Oriole, and Black-capped Chickadee are culled from the site specific ecologies of Welikia and the range of possible species present, which is a fascinating way to experience the site.  A snapshot of the area near the Collect Pond Park shows a wide range of species to drawn sounds from,

 

I was a bit disappointed with the visuals that accompanied the soundscapes, simple, abstract, placeless sketches that distracted, more than accentuated the experience.  Looking around, one wished the simple site-specific scenes were rendered in the same graphic style as the larger renderings, only more animated scenes with residual movement, wind, rustling leaves, and environmental cues that evoke the historical places, perhaps transitioning between new and old.

Maybe a fitting next stage for the project, a simple immersive VR experience could be done without a lot of work, but the sketches aren’t going to cut it.  The goal of capturing a vision of what was and what is, with a measure of interactivity that heightened awareness of the habitat sounds would be attainable, as seen through the myriad .  I found that closing your eyes and immersing in the sounds was the best way to experience this.  The dilemma is hinted at in the article: “At first, Mr. Al-Ibrahim said, he considered presenting only the sound from each of the sites. “It turns out people don’t respond well when put in pitch blackness with a headset on,” he said. By offering readers and listeners the choice of technologies, the project sidesteps the trap of endorsing one storytelling technique to the detriment of the actual message.”


The method of disseminating historical ecology, and pair the experience with soundscapes showcases.  As a quote from Sanderson mentions, which is clear from the work on Welikia and Mannahatta, the abundance of species. For a city known as one of the most dense and urban, the previous natural resource is somewhat surprising.  This is the beauty of connecting the past and the present.

As mentioned, “The Unsung website offers various ways to take in the weave of history, research and informed speculation in “Calling Thunder,” each with its own rewards: as a simple audio recording, 360-degree video, or, coming soon, virtual reality.”  I can’t wait to see the next installment and appreciate the inspiration of full-sensory experiences.

I had the opportunity to see Kate Orff from SCAPE speak a few weeks back at University of Washington, and it was inspiring to see the mix of project work and activism that is the mark of this creative firm.  This project aligns nicely as it is featured in her new book, Toward an Urban Ecology and is another example of ecological design in an urban context.  She focused on some of the older projects in her talk, but this is one I’ve been waiting to explore here at Hidden Hydrology, the Town Branch Commons in Lexington, Kentucky.

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The project unique example of using the historical hydrology and geology as design inspiration – not a true daylighting but falling somewhere in the middle of the continuum from art to restoration.    From Architect’s Newspaper, a recent post SCAPE turns Lexington, Kentucky’s long-buried water into an asset provides a pretty extensive visual overview and some description into the project that complements the overview in the book.

“Town Branch Commons weaves a linear network of public space along the 2.5 mile path of the historic Town Branch creek in downtown Lexington, Kentucky. Once a waste canal, sewer, and water conduit for the city, the buried stream channel of Town Branch is an opportunity to reconnect the city with its Bluegrass identity and build a legacy public space network for the 21st century. Rather than introducing a single daylit stream channel into the city fabric, the design uses the local limestone (karst) geology as inspiration for a series of pools, pockets, water windows, and stream channels that brings water into the public realm.”

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The renderings show the movement of water and the use of stone to embody the conceptual ideas of the Karst geology, which is responsible for the landscape of disappearing and reappearing springs.  A more expansive overview of the landscape type from the International Association of Hydrogeologists (IAH) site describes it as:   “A landscape formed by the erosion of bedrock, characterized by sinkholes, caves, and underground drainage systems. Many of the surface features are due to underground processes of the weak acids of groundwater dissolving the rock and creating a varied topography.” 

 

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This is seen in the design concepts for the spaces that are woven through the corridor, an approach referenced in Toward an Urban Ecology as a ‘Geology as Materiality’ (p.38).  The Karst metaphor is incorporated with orderly frames, referencing with geology within a semi-formal urban context that softens the spaces while maintaining functionality.  This is where the design-centric approach would differ from the more formal restoration, referencing a key hydro-geological precedent in an urban context.  As mentioned in the book ‘Towards an Urban Ecology’:  “Town Branch is recast as hybrid hydrological and urban infrastructure, creating defined and safe spaces for water, pedestrians, bicyclists, and vehicles along its path.  In the downtown core, streets are realigned to make way for an extended public realm, where water is expressed not at the surface, but underground, as rainwater-fed filtration gardens clean the waters of Town Branch before entering the culvert below.” (p.36)

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The concept of the sunken areas allow for an immersive experience within an urban realm.  The separation of grade and edges of formal and natural provide variety of experiences that provide a model for ‘daylighting’ and applied urban ecology that is both functional and artistic, aesthetic but with some ecological rigor.  As mentioned in A/N: To create freshwater pools—SCAPE calls them “karst windows,” in reference to similar naturally occurring formations—the design will tap old culverts (essentially large pipes) that previously kept Lexington’s karst water out of sight.

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And more dramatically enveloping in a recreation of the Karst geology and incorporation of moving, dynamic water, while also allowing for physical access to the water, a rare treat in urban areas.  This image shows waterfalls near Rupp Arena, a high-visibility area adjacent to more formal plaza spaces at surface.
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The nature/culture connection is strong, and a unique model that is about the landscape of Lexington.  As mentioned in A/N: “Here it’s all about finding a unique identity framed around a cultural and geological history of a place,” said Gena Wirth, SCAPE design principal. “What’s replicable is the multipurpose infrastructure that unites the city, its story, and its systems.”

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Water Walks

An interesting part of the narrative is not just the project design, but the generative strategy used by SCAPE to develop the project.  Those already familiar with another SCAPE project, the fantastic Safari 7, (which will get some documentation here soon) will note some similarities of the use of place-based audio and mapping, They documented a public outreach process Town Branch Water Walk which aimed to connect residents to the local landscape.  From their site:

“The result, Town Branch Water Walk, is a self-guided tour of downtown Lexington’s formerly hidden water body, Town Branch Creek, with content developed together with University of Kentucky students. The design intervention is not a physical landscape, but a communication tool– using podcasts, maps, and walks for the interpretation of urban systems. The Water Walk gives a broad understanding of the biophysical area around the Town Branch, reveals the invisible waters that run beneath the city, and demonstrates some of the impacts each resident of Lexington can have on the river and its water quality. By sharing how water systems and people are interrelated—both locally and globally—the Town Branch Water Walk makes stormwater quality relevant, linking it with the history, culture, and ecology of the city.”

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The walking tour is accompanied by audio that can be used in situ as podcasts, and as more formal walking or bike tours – and this model/map was also used at events along to provide  listening stations for the various stories.

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There’s more on this process worthy of additional exploration and future posts, and check out the audio and links at www.townbranchwaterwalk.com

All images via SCAPE

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